My Indonesian Potty-Training


One of the things that intrigued me a lot when I moved to Indonesia last year, were the dirty footmarks that I often encountered on the loo seats in public toilets. As a new arrival, I was still very ignorant about Indonesian customs but what I did know was that toilet paper is not always to be found so my first thoughts regarding this were that women, having done the necessary had then on discovering that there was no toilet paper in their cubicle, been forced to climb up onto the toilet seat in order to peer over into the cubicle next door to see if there was any in there.

It didn’t dawn on me until a few months later that the dirty footprints were in fact from ladies getting up onto the toilet to pee. I was both amused and amazed at this discovery. To my western mind, I couldn’t understand how anyone would want to climb onto a toilet when you can comfortably sit on it? Surely sitting on a toilet is a damn sight easier than having to clamber up onto the seat and perch perilously aloft the bowl?

As I learnt more about cultural differences, I soon discovered the reason why. Most domestic toilets (and most toilets in S.E Asia) are squat and drop affairs. The sitting down type toilets of which we are familiar in the west are relatively new here. I’m not sure how new they are, but they are certainly new enough that they seem to be causing some teething problems with a few of the ladies. I have great sympathy with them as I am having a struggle myself in getting to grips with things from the other way round so to speak.

As a rule of thumb (or bum in this instance) always carry tissue with you as toilet paper is rarer than hen’s teeth, and needless to say I forget to bring it more often than I remember too. Most Indonesians are scrupulously clean and like to wash after they’ve been to the toilet. In the case of a sitting down toilet, a good clean up should (I chose my word carefully here) be achievable by using the high- pressure hose that is situated on the wall to the right of the toilet (as yet I’ve got to find out how you’re meant to dry yourself after) After nine months now of religiously practicing my hosing technique at home, I’m still as inept with this device as ever, and invariably some sort of drama always ensues. Depending on which orifice I’m trying to aim it at, I either painfully rearrange my internal organs or worse, give myself a DIY colonic irrigation – this wholly unsatisfactory experience then ends with me spraying water all over the bathroom, myself, and quite frequently my hair whilst I try to turn the f’ing thing off. This doesn’t matter at home because I can clean it up, but it’s a bit embarrassing when out at a business dinner or when entertaining important foreign dignitaries. I often arrive back at the dinner table looking like I’ve been through a car wash and then have to hope that none of the guests then notice the team of cleaners carrying buckets and mops, heading swiftly towards the Ladies.

My practice hose in the apartment.

Last weekend, the Irishman and I, along with our good friend Mikey, visited Pulau Tidung, which is one of the small islands in the Thousand Island group, 2 hours boat ride north of Jakarta. We found a very lovely place to stay just a short walk from the harbour. As you can see from the pictures the amenities were simple but the rooms were very clean. The bathroom, the exact one shown in the picture below, was very traditional with a basic squat toilet, no high pressure hose, no basin but something that could be confused for a raised bath, but is in fact called a bak mandi. The bak mandi contains the water necessary for washing, sluicing waste down the toilet and for washing with, but definitely not in which is a shame because it looks very inviting. You take the water out of the bak mandi with a gayung, the plastic jug or ladle.

All was going fantastically well until the next morning when I needed to do something more than just a wee. I left Irishman and Mikey drinking coffee outside our home stay and slipped off to the bathroom to perform my ablutions. After stripping off, and then placing my feet on the paddles either side of the toilet bowl, I then crouched down and prayed that I wouldn’t have to hang around for long. Squatting to pee is one thing, squatting to crap is another and there’s always the added risk of hysterical retention in my case.  As I waited patiently for things to start to happen, I realized that it had been some time since I’d done any ‘target practice’ so you’ll understand how thrilled I was when, after the event, but still in squatting position, I peered down and couldn’t see anything. WOO HOO! I thought to myself, A hole in one! Magnifico! I stood up and started to fill the gayung with water to flush the toilet with and then wash myself. As I turned round with the water jug, imagine then if you will, my absolute horror when I saw what had actually happened. Instead of a ‘Hole in One’ there, neatly stacked on the ledge between the bowl and wall was my poo. Holy  Crapola. All I can say is Thank God for kitchen paper and Thank God for Irishman for remembering to bring it.

After a lengthy cleaning up session using almost an entire roll of paper, plus my precious Aussie Miracle shampoo to help obliterate any trace or odour of the unfortunate events, I went back outside to regale the boys with what had happened. After much serious thought, punctuated by howls of laughter, the Irishman and Mikey came up with what they think may be a handy solution to my problem and anyone else whose aim is to put it bluntly, crap – ‘The Stool-Master’. According to them, this natty, portable, and easy-to-fold device, can be taken anywhere. Place the stool (with their unique patent-pending designed hole in the middle) over the squat toilet and they guarantee (or your money back) there will never be another mishap. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Pulau Tidung.
Pulau Tidung.

First light. Pulau Tidung.

29 thoughts on “My Indonesian Potty-Training

  1. Oh I can empathize here. However much they tell us that it’s better for you to use squatters I’m not convinced. Maybe it’s like ballet and you have to start training early in life, or you’ll never be able to do it.
    Our school in Indonesia had a notice telling people to sit, rather than stand, on the toilet and someone has translated it into English, which I couldn’t help thinking was unnecessary. The English speakers knew what to do.

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    1. Thanks for your empathy Sarah! I think you are absolutely right, it’s imperative that training for squatters starts early in life – not in your late 40’s. I can happily deal with most things here but Indonesian toilet etiquette is something that I do admit to having a struggle with.

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  2. Thanks for making me laugh in the middle of the night. Believe me, I sympathize. I’ve never had to squat in the ground AND aim and I’d imagine most American’s would do about as well as you did. 🙂

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  3. Part of me feels its got to be better and healthier to squat and hovver, no sitting on what looks like a clean seat only to find rim drippings from the last user on your bum and
    thighs.
    Do just wonder how my slightly arthritic knees and hips would hold out, but i guess that’s another benefit of the Jakarta squits? Fast and furious visits?

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    1. Terrible splash-back with squatting B, terrible. Don’t worry about your knees, this is another reason why THE STOOL-MASTER (patents pending) is going to be such a hit.

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  4. O.M.G. Hee-fu*king-larious!! I was laughing so hard, my husband thought I was choking! Now that I’ve calmed myself, here are (a few of) my thoughts:
    1) I can never go to Jakarta. I could never master the toilet situation.
    2) “What do you mean you could “never” go to Jakarta?? Just because of the toilets??” “Yes, well, that and the hoses. I’d have to strip off every time and just take a shower!” “That’s ridiculous.” “Fine then, I’d just never go to the bathroom.” “Come on, where’s your sense of adventure, IK??” “I must have left it wherever I dropped off the cartilage in my knees!” “Oh, shut up.” “YOU shut up!”
    3) After I finished arguing with myself, I laughed even harder. Who would have thought to even bring up the whole toilet issue except Lottie?? No one. I’m sure of it! And isn’t she fabulous? Yes. Lottie IS fabulous and amazing and has far more dexterity than I.
    A most excellent post, dear (brave sister) Lottie! And gorgeous photos, as always. xx

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  5. Oh how I loved reading your comment Sister and imagining you arguing with yourself is hilarious. Yes, the stripping off routine is a nightmare and the reason that the queue for the toilets is always so bloody long. When you eventually get a cubicle it is so saturated with water (well I hope it’s only water!) that you have to wade through it to get to the toilet (top tip Roll trouser legs up before entering cubicle) By this stage I’m so desperate for a waz (if I haven’t already done most of it my pants) that I don’t give a stuff about the black footprints on the toilet seat, I just plonk myself down. There’s never any paper to wipe the seat with anyway 🙂 xx

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    1. LOL! OMG the drama involved in just having a pee! Makes you almost wish you were a man! I guess they’re saving on paper/trees, however, it does seem like they’re using more water. Ah well, can’t cover every base, can we?

      If I do find myself in Jakarta, I’ll remember to roll up my trousers. I suppose that means NO long dresses, too. Capris it is! 🙂 xx

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  6. Capri trews for sure, Long dresses are absolutely fine, just remember to hitch them up into your knickers first.

    Yes, the paper/versus water side of things did also cross my mind but then as we are practically the same person so that’s no surprise!!

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  7. Lottie this is so funny 🙂
    I’m originally from Sumatra so I know how it’s like. Once we visited a remote place and my son nearly murdered me for making him use the squat toilet – and there was no way my disabled husband could use one! Oh the pain he had to endure. Now when my kids go there for holidays (a pilot friend picks them up and flys them back home) they know they have to carry some toilet paper in their day backpack when going out.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment and one from a true Indonesian 🙂
      It’s really appreciated and I’m glad you found the post amusing!
      Your kids sound SO cool having their own pilot! WOW. I bet they love visiting Sumatra. I am so longing to go there myself, it’s definitely top of my ‘bucket list’ of places to visit.

      I really feel for your husband, it must be very difficult to use those toilets if you are disabled. The Stool-Master started out as a bit of a joke but I now think that it could be very useful to lots of people judging from the comments that have been left. Friends with arthritic knees, bad aimers such as myself etc

      I guess the moral of this story is, always carry toilet paper. Your sons should be thankful that they have such a wise Mummy!

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  8. I know many ex patriat Dutch from Indonesia who introduced those cultural ‘mandi’ habits to Holland, much to the horror of the locals. The Indonesian Dutch preferred to wash their bums with water, ( using left hand only) and were happy to continue going without loo paper.
    They also took daily showers, something the locals were somewhat loath to do. Some just used to shower a few times a year.
    You write well Lottie. Toilet stories are often very informative and hilarious.

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    1. Thank you Gerard, what an interesting comment. Those Dutch have a lot to answer for!

      I did know about the left-hand rule because I was told off shortly after arriving on these shores by someone for eating with my left-hand. When they explained it to me, it all made perfect sense. As I am very left-handed all tasks that I have to perform with my right hand, inevitably turn out very clumsy

      The washing the bum with the left hand is the part that comes quite naturally to me, it’s using the hose with the right hand that causes all the problems! I’m sure that you are familiar with the term ‘cack-handed’ but for those that may stumble across this post and perchance to read this comment and who are unfamiliar with the expression, I shall enlighten you with this piece that I found just now on the internet…….

      Q From Larry Nordell: This is from the Economist so I assume it must be some obscure Briticism: ‘And most recently, Mr Pitt has been stunningly cackhanded over the appointment of William Webster as head of the new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’. What does cackhanded mean?
      A It’s certainly British. It’s only obscure, though, if you’re from somewhere else, since it’s a well-known British informal term for somebody who is inept or clumsy. By extension, as I know to my cost, being of the sinistral variety myself, it means somebody left-handed, who does everything “backwards” and so looks clumsy or awkward. It first appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century.
      The American Heritage Dictionary suggests it comes from Old Norse keikr, bent backwards, and other American dictionaries also suggest this. I disagree, as do most British works of reference. The direct association is with cack, another fine Old English term, for excrement or dung. Cachus was Old English for a privy, and both words come from Latin cacare, to defecate.
      It almost certainly comes from the very ancient tradition, which has developed among peoples who were mainly right-handed, that one reserved the left hand for cleaning oneself after defecating and used the right hand for all other purposes. At various times this has been known in most cultures. Some consider it rude even to be given something using the left hand. So to be left-handed was to use the cack hand or be cack-handed.
      There are similar terms in other languages, such as the French main de merde for somebody awkward or butter-fingered.

      My Dutch Oma always used to tell me that I was cack-handed, so now having read this I am left in no doubt as to why I always seem to end up making a frightful mess of things, especially in the toilet department.

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